Graduate School

Choosing a Thesis Lab ① | 3 min read

• Ph.D. requires you for six to eight years of commitment. So choosing a thesis lab really matters!
• You should consider lab size, funding status, publications record, alumni, and etc.
• Figure out whether you are fit for the research through an internship before applying to graduate schools.

You might choose your thesis lab from rotations due to programs that you’re admitted to. If your program doesn’t run lab rotations, you’re supposed to consider which labs you want to join. As you might know, choosing a thesis lab for Ph.D. training really matters. With that said, many prospective students have difficult feelings about how to choose the right and fit for them. It could be frustrating; simply because you don’t know much about your field of interest, you might have just an outline of it without details. Or you've already known it but don’t know what to prioritize. I hope that this article might be helpful for both prospective Ph.D. and Postdocs.

1. Line of research

First of all, you should figure out your research fields. Allow yourself to explore broader fields, starting from the main interests. It could be your plan B to balance other options. I’m not saying that you should consider unrelated scientific areas, but just have an open mindset as a researcher. In the scientific world, you would face continuous challenges. Trends? Always change. So it is not a stretch to say that you should be resilient with initiatives.

Furthermore, the actual research project and topics could be a bit different from what you have thought. Have deep, meaningful conversations with your potential thesis advisors and principal investigators about research topics, before choosing a thesis lab. You will find research trends over conversations and figure out which way you should head to.

2. Off the line of research

Ph.D. requires you for six to eight years of commitment. You will spend this much time at the lab with research members and your thesis advisor. Doing research could be stressful since it should make high-quality output. So be considerate and find the evidence before choosing a thesis lab. Don’t make things not related to the research distract you.

During the time of consultation with potential advisors, you might find and figure out their management style. Not only consider how much overlap your research area has with lab members as well as advisors but find out their lab management style. Do they micromanage team members or do they just expect the results by giving spaces? Which management style do you prefer?

Lab size also matters. Of course, there are pros and cons for each. Bigger-sized labs are likely to have more funding and interdisciplinary projects. You will have more chances to take part in various researches and to build a larger network with different expertise. Meanwhile, smaller-sized labs might give you more close co-work relationships at the lab (even with your advisor!) and give you more freedom to get into your own research. But there might be a less stable funding status than bigger labs.

Then, how to find these factors? First off, you could ask someone in the inside lab by using mutual friendships. Or simply put, send emails to lab members and ask them in a polite manner; introduce who you are, show your interests in the research and the lab they currently work at. They will give you answers and even advice on the grad schools.

3. Research Internship

Let’s put it into practice to figure out what your disposition is; apply for several research positions as an intern. After landing internships, you will find your type as a researcher and whether you are fit for research or not. Are you a self-motivated person? If you are, it will lead you to the road to graduate schools but if you are not, you should consider different career paths other than going to graduate schoo

The internship experience will also give you a chance to think about the work ethic and life values. So it is strongly recommended to have such training before applying for graduate programs.

Find the continued article here.

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